Florida is home to more than 13 species of bats.
Over the years, Florida bats have shaken free from their being-dangerous stereotype to become a treasured part of society, providing free pest control and even entertainment with “bat watching” that is labeled a tourist attraction.
Florida also boasts having the world’s largest man-made bat habitat. After years of bats living in unwanted spaces, the University of Florida created an alternate place of residence, which now houses multiple species of bats, including the Brazilian free-tailed and big brown bats.
But, to truly understand the dangers bats pose to humans and other animals throughout Florida, the species itself needs to be better understood.
There’s a reason so many bats call Florida home, and there are reasons so many Floridians have embraced the bat population over the years.
Perhaps the most well-known fact about bats in the environment is that they provide a natural form of pest control by eating many of the insects that invade people’s homes and destroy crops.
What most do not know is that bats are also pollinators of plants such as mango, banana, and avocado — all of which are grown in Florida — can aid in fertilization of crops, and play an important role in the redistribution of seeds, resulting in reforestation.
In recent months, with mating season in full swing, bat activity in Florida has increased. The spike in activity will most likely continue throughout the spring and summer months as bat maternity season begins (officially April 16 through August 14).
Female bats typically give birth to one or two pups a year depending on the species. To help ensure that they are able to deliver and care for their young (bats are a protected mammal), bat exclusion is prohibited by federal law during maternity season.
Bats & Rabies: The Real Danger
However, the potential dangers of bats in metropolitan environments make them an easy animal to fear, despite their benefits to the ecosystem.
With an increase in the number of bats, the risk for disease can also rise. Recent rabies warnings have been issued throughout Southwest Florida for several instances involving infected bats, a house cat, and even a young boy that died from Rabies.
Rabies is spread through saliva and can be contracted by humans or other animals through a scratch, bite, or if a pre-existing wound is exposed to infected saliva.
Owners of pets and parents of small children should be watchful and should never let children handle unfamiliar or wild animals. Though treatable, if not properly addressed, the disease can be fatal.
If an incident does occur, wounds should be washed with soap and water and medical attention should be sought immediately.
Different Types of Bats in Florida
Though Florida has many species of bats, some found most commonly in Southwest Florida are the Brazilian Free-tailed Bat and the evening bat. One may also occasionally encounter a big brown or tri-colored bat.
Brazilian Free-Tailed Bat
The Brazilian free-tailed bat is Florida’s most commonly seen bat. Its name comes from its tail, which extends farther than its actual tail membrane. It can range in color from dark to grayish brown.
Size: 2.2 to 2.9 inches (with an 11-to-13-inch wingspan)
Diet: Insectivorous. They prefer insects such as beetles, moths, and flies.
Habitat: Colonial. Brazilian free-tailed colonies can be anywhere from hundreds of bats to thousands and usually roost in man-made buildings and structures (largest population in bat houses).
Big Brown Bat
The big brown bat is found throughout all of Florida and as its name suggests, is large with smooth, brown fur, and a black face that resembles that of a dog snout.
Size: 2.1 to 3.2 inches (with a 13-to-14-inch wingspan)
Diet: Insectivorous. Big Brown bats will eat a number of insects including (but not limited to) planthoppers, beetles, rue bugs, flies, mosquitoes, flying termites, flying ants.
Habitat: Colonial. Typically roost in dead trees, under bridges, in bat houses, or buildings.
Evening bats are also commonly seen throughout the southern part of Florida, with the exception of the Florida Keys. At first glance, an evening bat may be confused with the large brown bat, as they share similar features in the facial area, however, the evening bat is considerably smaller in size.
Size: 1.9 to 2.6 inches (with 10-to-11 inch wingspan)
Diet: Insectivorous. Evening bats eat a range of insects, similar to the big brown bat.
Habitat: Colonial. Evening bats may have colonies ranging from relatively low numbers to nearly 100.
The tri-colored bat gets its name from its multicolored appearance. It is Florida’s smallest bat.
Size: 1.4 to 2.0 inches (with an 8-to-10 inch wingspan)
Diet: Insectivorous. These bats will eat smaller insects such as ants, small beetles and moths, leafhoppers, flies, and mosquitoes.
Habitat: Colonial/Solitary. Tri-colored bats with roost in small groups or by themselves in caves, buildings, under tree leaves, or small openings in trees and rocks.
Staying close to the northern part of the state, this bat, completely gray in color, is a rare and endangered species in Florida.
Size: 1.6 to 2.2 inches (with an 11-to-13 inch wingspan)
Diet: Insectivorous. The gray myotis will eat flies, moths, midges, mosquitoes and other insects.
Habitat: Colonial. This species roosts in caves.
Northern Yellow Bat
This common Florida bat is large in size and has a color ranging from yellowish to gray.
Size: 2.8 to 2.8 inches (with a 14-to-16 inch wingspan)
Diet: Insectivorous. These bats eat most of the common insects as well as insects such as damselflies and flying ants.
Habitat: Solitary. The northern yellow bat prefers to roost alone, mostly taking up shelter in dead palm fronds.
Eastern Red Bat
The eastern red bat is common in northern Florida. The males are a color resembling red bricks while the females tend to be a more subtle red or yellow color, both sexes having white fur on their wrists and shoulders.
Size: 2.0 to 2.4 (with an 11-to-13 inch wingspan)
Diet: Insectivorous. These bats share a similar diet with most bats, but also go for insects that live primarily on the ground.
Habitat: Solitary. These bats roost alone in bushes or under tree leaves.
Appearing similar to the eastern red bat, this medium-sized bat is the color of mahogany with tufts of white fur on its wrists and shoulders, giving it a similar appearance to the eastern red bat.
Size: 1.8 to 2.7 inches (with an 11-to-13 inch wingspan)
Diet: Insectivorous. Seminole bats eat beetles, tree bugs, flies, moths and other insects.
Habitat: Solitary. They can be found roosting in pine trees or Spanish moss.
Velvety Free-Tailed Bat
These bats have velvet-like fur that is dark in color (usually dark brown or gray) and have tails that extend beyond the tail membrane.
Size: 2.3 to 2.6 inches (10-to-11 inch wingspan)
Diet: Insectivorous. This species mainly feeds on small winged insects.
Habitat: Colonial. These bats are known to roost in structural buildings.
Florida Bonneted Bat
The Florida bonneted bat gets its name from its large ears that point forward, making it look like it is wearing a bonnet. Like the free-tailed bats, the bonneted bat has an extra long tail, is brown or gray in color, and holds the title for Florida’s largest bat.
Size: 3.3 to 4.3 inches (with a 19-to-21 inch wingspan)
Diet: Insectivorous. These bats typically eat tree bugs, beetles, and flies.
Habitat: Colonial. This rare endangered species usually makes its home in cliff or tree crevices, as well as in structural buildings.
This large bat comes in a range of colors and has a “frosted” appearance because of the white tips on its long fur. It is the second largest bat in Florida.
Size: 2.8 to 3.1 inches (with a wingspan of 13-to-16 inches)
Diet: Insectivorous. Its diet is most common insects with the addition of wasps and dragonflies.
Habitat: Solitary. These harry bats prefer to roost alone in trees or Spanish moss.
Rafinesque's big-eared bat
The Rafinesque's big-eared bat is a relatively small bat with smooth fur and ears measuring up to approximately half of the bat’s body size. Grayish brown in color, this uncommon (and rare) bat also has large glands on its muzzle giving it an almost horned shaped nose.
Size: 1.5 to 2.2 inches (with a wingspan of 10-12 inches)
Diet: Insectivorous. These bats feed mainly on soft bugs and moths.
Habitat: Colonial. These bats appear in couples or small groups.
These smaller bats have fur that is usually either brown or gray and are common in central Florida.
Size: 1.9 to 2.1 inches (with a 9-to-11 inch wingspan)
Diet: Insectivorous. Southeastern Myotis usually eat mosquitoes and other small insects.
Habitat: Colonial. These bats make their homes in caves (most common), trees, bridges, and bat houses.
Bat Damage & Cat-Guard Exclusion Systems
Though bats maintain a friendly relationship with the environment, bats in your home can be anything but pleasant.
Bat guano (or droppings) and urine can ruin insulation and cause your home to smell quite badly. A pile-up of bat guano can also lead to the development of fungus which can trigger histoplasmosis, a disease which attacks the lungs. These are definitely situations you and your family want to avoid, so if one arises, get your solution in order, and fast.
Some more-than-worthy solutions are Catseye’s patented Cat-Guard Exclusion Systems, which provides the thorough protection your home needs — from top to bottom — to keep unwanted wildlife from getting in your home.
Cat-Guard is applied to the outside of homes following the fast, safe removal and cleaning up of whatever mess bats or any other unwanted wildlife may cause during their brief stay. It’s a solution that’s permanent, trustworthy, and looks great, too.
Learn more about our bat exclusion service and contact us today if you need assistance.
Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International